So, Mike Krahulik, also known as Gabe from Penny Arcade, has just posted his New Year’s resolution.

I used to read Penny Arcade religiously.  I’ve got a few books of Gabe and Tycho’s, each one signed.  I’ve enjoyed many of their recommendations and have generally thought they were (ultimately) a positive influence for gamers.  But we’re not going to talk about that today.

Krahulik has also said some exceedingly fucked up stuff.  Stuff that goes beyond merely being insensitive and offensive and digs its heels in deep with the intent to harm whatever it is that he and Holkins have created.  But we’re not going to talk about that today, either.

Really, what I want to talk about is this particular passage from the above link here:

So what am I? As a young person I imagined myself a sort of vengeful spirit. A schoolyard Robin Hood who attacked the strong and popular on behalf of the social outcasts. I’m 36 years old now though and I realize what I am is a bully. I may have been the one who got beat up but I sent plenty of kids home in tears. I also realize that I carried those ridiculous insecurities into adulthood. I still see people who attack me as the enemy and I strike back with the same ferocity as that seventh grader I used to be. I’m ashamed of that and embarrassed. The crazy thing is I don’t even necessarily believe the stuff I say a lot of times. It would probably be more noble if I did. The truth is I just say them to be mean. I say them because I know they will hurt. It’s pretty fucked up.

I’ve mentioned before my own rough childhood.  I dealt with bullies, abuse, name-calling, teasing.  I highly doubt anyone who went on to be successful creatively had an easy childhood.  I suspect anyone who has a talent for creating worlds to escape in first had to have a reason to escape from their own.  And I can completely understand where Krahulik is coming from here.

Because really, the “vengeful spirit” thing is not exclusive to him.  I’ve mentioned before that constant bullying turned me into an asshole.  By the time I was old enough to realize words could hurt and I had a talent with them, I used both those facts to insidious ends.  I would quickly tear other kids down, diminishing their accomplishments, making them feel guilty for things they didn’t do, generally making them feel like garbage.

I know I’m not alone in this.  Some of the most venomous, vicious, virulent people I’ve met were bullied as kids.  Probably a lot of them thought that they were “vengeful spirits,” as well.  And maybe it began that way.  But the truth of the matter is–for me, and them, and I think for Krahulik–that this behavior is motivated by the same thing that motivates most human behavior: fear.

Someone who comes from a difficult position will do anything to avoid going back to that position.  Some of the most ardent fitness gurus out there were overweight children.  Some of the most steadfast atheists came from staunchly religious households.  They were in situations where they were being made miserable and will do damn near anything to avoid being made to feel like that again.

Myself, I was picked on, bullied, ostracized and generally made to feel like an outsider in my own life.  I constantly felt the looming specter of being bumped to the bottom of the social ladder.  I got into a fistfight with my best friend over New Year’s because of it, lashing out because–for an instant–I felt like I was back in school, back to being the guileless, chubby kid with no friends.

For even as we get older and more successful, the ghosts of those days don’t ever really die.  As we become more confident and self-assured, we never really feel like no one can hurt us, we just feel like we can make them pay a steeper and steeper price for doing so.  No one ever really moves past those fears.  They just bury the old ghosts, one at a time, and patiently wait for new ones to arrive.

This particular fear is cannibalizing, though.  You grow up being bullied by people in positions of power.  When you have a position of power yourself, you feel the need to hold onto it to keep yourself from being bullied again.  To apologize, to admit fault, to self-reflect is to show weakness, is to give up some of that power, is to invite the bullying all over again.  The bullied becomes, as Krahulik notes, the bully.

And there is no greater evidence of this cannibalizing influence than the fact that a vast number of people have met Krahulik’s apology by sitting down, drumming their fingers on their knees and gleefully awaiting the moment he fucks up and says something offensive again.

And that’s what we’re here to talk about.

Now, it could be that we all run in different social circles.  Maybe I frequent message boards that are meaner, twitter groups that are harsher.  But I’m pretty sure that, if you’re reading this blog, you’re probably a geek of some sort.  And I’m pretty sure that all the groups I hang out in and all the ones that you hang out in touch each other at some point.  And everywhere I go, I see Krahulik’s apology met with declarations that he’s insincere, that he doesn’t mean it, that he does mean it but he can’t help himself and we should just start counting down the days until he fucks up again.

And he’s going to fuck up again, it’s true.  Like I said, no one really moves past that fear.  They just learn to deal with it in better ways.  But even if he didn’t, how could he not fuck up with a not insignificant portion of the internet rooting for his failure?

Some of these people are just jerks.  But I think a lot of them are feeding into that cannibalizing fear.  I think a lot of people are looking for vindication, to say that Krahulik was always going to be a jerk and that they always were right, to assert power over him and their situations.

I can understand that.

Be mad at Krahulik.  I’m not going to tell you that you shouldn’t be.  He’s said some truly awful shit in his days.  And I’m not going to tell you that you need to buy this idea of cannibalizing fear or that the only way forward is to walk away, because I know what a frustratingly lame answer that is.

I’m just telling you how I think this whole fear thing works.

I’m not going to go into depth on what I think of Krahulik’s resolution.  Nor am I going to tell you what to think about it.  But personally, I think that if I dedicate time to wanting him to fail, then he eventually will, and all the good he and Penny Arcade have done will eventually just collapse under the weight of that fear.  So for now, I think I’m going to believe him and wish him well with this resolution.

Because I got into a fistfight with my best friend on New Year’s Eve because of that fear.  And I don’t wish it for Krahulik or the people who are mad at him.

12 Responses to “2014”

  1. IvoryDoom

    I struggled with this kind of stuff for a long time myself Sam and still do from time to time.
    I do my best to be as self actuating as possible now though and it has helped to think about others perspectives.
    Even the “popular” crowd has there issues. We all do. Realizing that made me feel more powerful than anything else.
    Now, even bullies, I try to make honest connections with. Learning to admit my weaknesses was killer, but I feel no shame in expressing myself honestly now even if it is met with criticism as it more than most people will ever be able to achieve and there is a real freedom in that I don’t feel like anyone could steal or destroy.
    Generally though, the reaction to me admitting those weaknesses, breaks the barrier for others to do the same without the sense of shame our culture has ingrained in us for having them.

    So thank you for your honesty, it’s hard to admit this kind of stuff and it shows that in the end, you have a strong character!

    (sorry my comments are always so long……….well, kinda)

  2. Vic

    There should be some major award for starting the year off with an argument this well worded.

  3. Becky Morgan

    One of the bullies I can’t forget–one of the reasons I have to use a cane a good bit of the time, one of the reasons my jaw is twisted and one of my arms doesn’t always work, that kind of bully–apologized to me out of the blue one summer afternoon. She told me what had happened to her and why she thought she had to do what she did, and she asked me to forgive her. I did. She may have gone back to what she was doing; it would be hard for her not to, but for that one day, she was sorry. There are times when any small step ion the right direction is better than nothing.

  4. RinnyWee

    As I said to you on Twitter, “yes, yes, yes”. Mike’s post and your own resonated with me strongly, but for other reasons.

    I wasn’t bullied a lot when I was younger. It was there, of course, but not as bad as a lot of other kids had it. I was the “weirdo”, the “lesbo”, the “freak”, the “goth”, the “povvo” (Aussie slang for a poor person). Where most other kids would have rebuffed all this teasing, I embraced it, and used that as a weapon against those who tried to hurt me.

    The weirdo became weirder. The “lesbo” would flirt more openly with the girls at school. The freak would do things to keep the other kids on their toes. The goth put on more black. The povvo dressed so grungy it bordered on being the inspiration for Mugatu’s Derelicte campaign.

    Thing is, all this bravado, it didn’t help. It made me, at first, angry, then so depressed I started creating a world for myself in my head. I won’t go into details, but I got sick. Very sick.

    Once I came through the other side, rather than being angry with them, I wanted to help them and since then, I’ve gone out of my way to be overly nice to people, to help them with their problems and concerns – sometimes to the detriment of my own health, safety and happiness. I am so desperate for other people to be happy, to not feel pain, to not be hurt by anyone around them. I let people use me. I know it’s happening, I know it will hurt, but I still let it happen. Because for a brief moment, I’ve managed to make someone feel good.

    Thinking about it, I think I am an asshole, to be honest. To myself.

    • IvoryDoom

      Aww, girl, you just hit me in my heart.
      Helping others is a hard thing to do and you are kind for listening and trying to understand which is often even more difficult than helping them.
      Don’t let’em walk on ya too much though, whether you believe it or not, you do have a worth, so don’t sell it short. Own all your facets, not just the negative ones.

  5. KD McEntire

    Hey, Sam. I know we run in the same circles but you don’t have time to read my blog. Honestly yours is pretty much the only one I read when I have the time (occasionally Lou’s). I posted something not too far back about how I grew up (bullied) and how it turned me into the writer I am today. The link’s attached (http://kdmcentire.wordpress.com/2013/11/21/pivotal-part-of-publishing/). It’s okay if you don’t have time to look at it, your books are way, way longer than mine and take much more editing. 😉

    I used to read PA religiously until the rape-wolves thing. I’ve been raped but it didn’t seem to hit me the way it hit other people. I found it in bad taste only, a product of living a certain kind of life, of being protected in a way from some of the harsher aspects of existence. (Who was it that said being a white, male American was “playing life in Easy Mode”? Something like that.) My disgust didn’t stem from his comic. My disgust stemmed from how he handled the criticism. He’s an adult, a professional, and (some might argue, even more importantly) the face of gaming today and yet what he did summed up in a handful of vitriolic comments and tweets exactly how gamers feel about rape and (nominally) about women and girls. How our society feels. He turned something that could have been a remarkable discussion – a hardline on how people *should* treat others – into a battle for his ego.

    Do I want him to fail again? No. I really don’t. I want him to have learned from this. Do I expect him to fail again? I don’t know. I’m reserving judgement.

    I think it’s a matter of trust. He had the trust of a lot of gamers – hell, a lot of people – and he held it for a long time without screwing it up. And then he screwed it up so phenomenally that it was actually sort of breathtaking to watch. He was a gaming god who suddenly revealed that his feet weren’t clay, they were baser than that. He was a mouthpiece for a generation suddenly spewing shit and it rocked a lot of worlds. It’s hard to trust again after that.

    Are some of those clambering to see him fall merely assholes? Of course they are. This is the internet and PA said it best with their Internet Fuckwad Theory. But I believe that a lot of them are simply still mad that he wasn’t a god after all, that he failed them. Because – as you and I both know – growing up a nerd or a geek in the pre-internet age meant carrying around a LOT of baggage and often those grudges are difficult to drop. We tend to hang on to what hurts us the most. It takes much to earn our trust again.

    Hope to see you again at DragonCon, man.

  6. Stevie

    I’m having real problems trying to unpick the reasons behind your suggestion that people wishing or hoping or predicting that Krahulic will fail in his resolution will, in an unexplained manner, ensure that he will fail.

    I don’t believe that wishing, hoping or predicting an event will actually make that event happen; that way lies the madness of the Rapture. It’s profoundly irrational in a situation which has come about precisely because a wealthy and influential person has behaved irrationally over a lengthy period of time, and has now stated his intention of trying to behave in a more rational manner in the future.

    You may recognise that punching your best friend was, at the very least, irrational. You may recognise that punching your best friend is not a good way of ensuring that you will continue to have a best friend in the future, unless, of course, you are Doctor Watson and your best friend is Sherlock Holmes, in which case punching him is entirely reasonable.

    Part of the problem with the way in which Krahulic has expressed himself is that the groups he has targetted do rationally have much more to fear in their day to day lives than he does; for those groups it isn’t about what used to happen in school (though school was probably pretty shitty as well); it’s about all day, every day, every single day of their lives. It is difficult to make sense of people who proclaim themselves as understanding how horrible it is to be the underdog who then put the boot into any underdog who happens to be in the way of where they want to go; again, this is profoundly irrational behaviour, and Krahulic’s statement suggests that he has realised this fact.

    Hence my puzzlement as to why you believe that people wishing, hoping or predicting that Krahulic cannot change can actually prevent him from changing in the way that he wishes; I can find no rational basis for your belief…

    • sam

      Of course it’s irrational. It’s fear. I sincerely doubt Krahulik goes about his conflicts by sitting quietly, thinking carefully about whether or not people deserve what he’s about to do and then executes a choice based on that.

      I rather more believe it’s like being back in high school all over again, like a flashback. He can’t escape it. I’m not saying that absolves him, of course, but I do think it’s more out of his hands than you’d like to believe.

      Rationality does not always apply to human interaction. If you find that a dissatisfying answer, I’m not entirely sure what to tell you.

      • Stevie


        Obviously I didn’t express myself well enough; I have no difficulty in understanding why someone may be traumatised by events to the point of never being able to rid themselves of the fight/flight response to specific triggers. What I don’t understand is your assertion that the fact that people doubt that someone is capable of overcoming his traumatic response is, in itself, capable of ensuring that he cannot do so.

        There is a very big difference between charting PTSD, which may or may not respond to therapy, depending on the severity of the trauma, the willingness of the traumatised to engage in therapy and the skills of the therapist, and invoking the deus ex machina of the views of others which you seem to be doing in your post.

        Admittedly, my perspective is heavily influenced by the fact that I was blown up by an exploding oxygen regulator when I was 36 weeks pregnant; being trapped in a room with a fire being fed by pure oxygen is not the sort of experience which can ever be obliterated from one’s memory, and there are very few people who have ever survived it so support groups are non-existent. On the other hand, since I have a severe and progressive lung disease my subsequent inability to be in a room with any kind of oxygen supply wasn’t doing much for my life expectancy either; I was therefore highly motivated to engage in therapy and I was fortunate in finding a good therapist, which is why I am still alive.

        I am not suggesting that therapy is pleasant; quite the reverse in my case since it involved repeatedly exposing myself to something which terrified me so much that I had to be sedated to do it at all. But it became easier over time; Mike may find that it becomes easier over time. For that matter, you may find that it becomes easier over time; it’s worth a try.

        • sam

          I rather fear you’re still not expressing yourself well enough. I’m not -quite- certain what you’re trying to convey here.

          I mean, I get that you think that rooting for Krahulik to fail won’t necessarily cause him to fail. But surely, you can’t expect it to make things easier for him. When you make an effort and are rejected before you even have a chance to do so, it’s very easy to justify not making that effort to begin with. I’m not saying this will happen with him, but I don’t think it helps any.

          Your last paragraph puzzles me a bit. Are you suggesting I need therapy?

          • Stevie

            ‘Suggesting’ is, I think, not the right word.

            It does, however, seem to me that a person who is so affected by the traumas of his past that he punches his best friend as a result thereof may stand in need of assistance. If you were surrounded by people encouraging you to punch him then you would be in greater need of assistance.

            I thus accept your latest view that grinding negativity towards people who are trying to change may have deleterious results; of course, it might also have good results, in spurring people to change to prove that the others got it wrong.

            It’s very late on this side of the Pond, so I had better get some sleep; thank you for engaging in this conversation, and I hope that things work out well for everyone.

  7. Tim H

    Thanks for this post, Sam, you nailed it. Who hasn’t been completely rotten at some point? We all have a lot to make amends for, and we all have a lot to forgive.

    My favorite line from Magnolia is “What can we forgive? Tough part of the job. Tough part of walking down the street.” That’s what matters in the end. And you have to forgive yourself as well, and then do better.

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